Echpochmak, chak-chak and koymak. Tatar Cuisine in 10 Main Courses

5 june 2018
The best way to get to know Tatarstan is through the local cuisine. Familiarize yourself with our round up of the Republic’s gastronomic treasures, which contain the national spirit

Author — Dinara Valeeva

Echpochmak

Everyone goes crazy for the rosy triangular pie, starting from the time of the nomadic Turkic tribes. Back then, the echpochmak was a convenient way to satisfy the nomads’ hunger. Today it has become a symbol of Tatar cuisine and the identity of national happiness, in honour of which sculptures, films and online memes have been dedicated to. Under the outer of the soft dough, “weaved” in plaits and smeared with egg yolk, hides a filling of beef, lamb or goose meat chopped into cubes, mixed with potatoes and onions. There’s something special about eating these pies straight out of the oven, washing them down with some hot broth.

Gubadia

A large round pie, reminiscent of the affectionate Tatarstan sun is an obligatory participant in any “tabyn” (“festive table” in Tatar). Nourishing and as sweet as a dream about the next forthcoming trip to Tatarstan, the filling of the pie is multi-layered. The bottom of the gubadia is covered with the ginger-coloured cottage cheese cooked in malted milk, covered by rice, mixed in with honey raisins and chopped egg.

Chak-chak

Fried pieces of soft dough, wrapped in honey – this is the main national dessert and a true treasure of Tatar cuisine. Chak-chak can come with numerous additions - chocolate, nuts, sesame seeds – the dessert’s versatility knows no bounds. The locals took their love of chak-chak to unprecedented heights when in honour of the 1,000th anniversary of Kazan in 2005, a chak-chak weighing 1,000kg spanning across a 13,266 square metre area was created in the city. Chak-chak flies off store shelves, courtesy of Tatarstan’s guests to be passed on as gifts and souvenirs every year. Indeed, what could be better than local food?

Zur Belish

Zur Belish is the “big guns” of national cuisine - the king of Tatar feasts. Inside a dough outer, pieces of beef, lamb, potatoes, onions and broth are slow cooked for at least two hours. There is a precise serving strategy for an authentic zur belish: first the dough top is cut around its circumference and its parts are given to the guests along with the filling. Then, the rest of the pie’s remaining crust that’s been soaked by the juices and broth is divided.

Peremyach

This is Tatar cuisine’s most simple and common pie: a handful of beef or lamb mince with chopped onions, hidden inside a delicious dough, deep-fried to perfection.

Bauyrsak

A devoted ally of tea, ayran and katyk. One of the most famous Tatar sweets is prepared using flour, butter and eggs as its base. The rolled out ropes of dough are cut into small pieces, which are then deep-fried. Bauyrsak is served chilled, lightly powdered with icing sugar.

Elesh

This round Tatar patty, externally resembles a smaller version of a zur belish. But under the golden, like the crescents of Kul Sharif, dough, made using sour cream as a base, hides a large portion of chicken filling mixed with potatoes, onions, butter and spices. The elesh meat is cooked in its own broth, so the finished pie is very juicy and satisfying.

Kystyby

A toasted crunchy pancake, hugging a nourishing filling - mashed potatoes or millet porridge – the Tatar version of Mexican tacos or Greek gyros. Kystyby (or “kuzikmek”) is one of the most popular dishes of national cuisine, which local gastro-enthusiasts have started to adapt in recent years. Inside menus of local cafes and restaurants, quite often you might see kystyby made with meat cutlets, fish or vegetables. No matter what, nothing compares to the classic version of the original mashed potato filling inside a soft pancake, generously oiled with butter.

Koymak

These pikelets can only be described through happy feelings – they are like the light breeze on a hot summer’s day, the weightlessness of a down-feather bed, a child’s rosy cheeks and the warmth of a beloved grandmother’s hands, the hissing of oil in a stone stove and a milk moustache after taking a drink from a clay jug. Koymak are most delicious when eaten with strawberry jam or thick country sour cream. “Temle buylsyn!” (how the Tatars say “Bon Appetite!”).

Talkysh Kaleve

A sweet dessert, that has stood the test of time throughout centuries. The original recipe of talkysh kaleve was brought to the Kazan county by Turkish captive, and the head of the Safiullin family - Borhan-Babai in the 19th century. He invented a new Tatar dessert based on existing eastern desserts of that time. The pyramid of sugar and honey threads that melts in your mouth is the national dessert that is the most time consuming to prepare. The welded honey syrup is pulled until it emits a certain sound, and its colour remains brown, without turning beige. The mass is then mixed with flour and oil, stretched out into a fine thread and then put into molds.

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